Naruto: Ninja Council 3 Hands-On

We check out a near-finished North American version of this anime-inspired action game.

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Currently scheduled for release in North America next month, Naruto: Ninja Council 3 is an action game in which you'll be tasked with completing more than 60 missions involving combat, item collection, and exploration. One of the game's biggest selling points is that it will feature no fewer than 27 playable characters, which certainly compares favorably to the previous game's three. We had a chance to check out a near-finished version of the upcoming DS game during a recent meeting with Tomy and played through several single-player missions and multiplayer games to bring you our impressions.

Naruto is the only playable character at the start of the game.
Naruto is the only playable character at the start of the game.

The first time you play the single-player mission mode you'll have access to only one playable character: Naruto. That won't be the case for long, though, because as soon as you complete the first level you'll unlock a further 11 characters, including Hinata Hyuga, Rock Lee, Sasuke Uchiha, and Shikamaru Nara. The character roster in the North American version of Ninja Council 3 will be different from that in the Japanese game (Naruto: Saikyou Ninja Daikesshuu 3) because the anime is a few years ahead in Japan and so features characters who have yet to appear on Cartoon Network.

Although their attributes vary somewhat, all of the characters in Ninja Council 3 are controlled in the same way. The face buttons are used to jump, double-jump, dash, and perform various punches, kicks, and throws. The directional pad is used for movement, crouching, and making jumps much higher. The left and right shoulder buttons are used for teleporting behind enemies and for blocking, respectively. Four buttons on the touch screen are used to trigger special attacks, which are unusual in more ways than one.

The characters have four special move slots but, in many cases, only one to three special moves of their own. Interestingly, you'll have the option to fill any empty slots (as well as replace any moves that you don't like much) with moves borrowed from any other fighter you've unlocked--the only exceptions being characters that your current mission pits you against. When you activate a special move, its effectiveness will be determined by your performance in a brief minigame that appears on the touch screen. The minigames require you to complete simplistic (though not always simple) tasks using the stylus, such as spinning a wheel, rubbing a vertical or horizontal line repeatedly, matching symbols, or blowing into the microphone. In multiplayer battles some of the minigames give the players being attacked a chance to defend themselves, but for the most part it will just be you versus a very short time limit.

The map on the touch-screen is as helpful as it looks.
The map on the touch-screen is as helpful as it looks.

There are three different multiplayer game types in Ninja Council 3, each supporting up to four players. Battle royale is a last-man-standing free-for-all. Scroll collection is a race to see who can collect the most scrolls from defeated enemies and other players within a time limit. Treasure hunt tasks you with finding an item that's specific to you, and it lets you mess with other players by picking up their items. Your goals in the single-player missions are equally varied, requiring you to defeat other characters, locate a certain number of objects, perform specific moves, or race to checkpoints, for example. Even some of the early missions are quite challenging on the default difficulty setting, not only because you're up against a time limit of only a minute or two, but also because the map on the touch screen isn't always helpful since it shows only the locations of other characters. The map doesn't even show you the layout of the environment you're exploring, which makes it all too easy to lose health after falling to the bottom of the screen and missing all of the platforms there.

Thankfully you don't need to complete the missions in order, so if you find a particular mission too difficult you can simply attempt another one on the "mission bingo panel" grid and come back to the difficult one later. In theory, the characters and special moves that you unlock as you progress through the game will make some of the tough missions a little easier to tackle, but to date we haven't unlocked anyone significantly more useful than the starting lineup. We look forward to bringing you more information on Naruto: Ninja Council 3 as soon as it becomes available.

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